BDS and terrorism: A response to the MSA report

Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Two days before he competed in the Likud primary, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan stood before the cameras against a backdrop of a terrorist morphing into an executive and the headlines: “We exposed over 100 links of terror groups with BDS organizations”; and “We identified 30 past or present terrorists filling roles in 13 BDS organizations”.
“Terrorists in Suits” is the title of the Ministry’s new report, which purports to shows the ties between terror groups and NGOs promoting BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel). Yet the facts presented in the report do not live up to the scary headlines.
A terrorist is defined not by the goal he tries to achieve, but by the methods he adopts to achieve that goal, specifically the use of violence against civilians.
Whether or not you support a boycott of Israel (I don’t), you cannot deny that activities to promote such a boycott are non-violent and protected by freedom of expression and freedom of association. This is also the official position of the EU and various EU member states, which oppose BDS and don’t fund BDS activities, while resisting calls to demonize and sanction persons and organizations solely because they support BDS.
As documented by the Policy Working Group, allegations of “terrorist affiliations” are also a well-known tactic to defame Palestinian NGOs. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs claims many Palestinian civil society organizations are linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is listed as a terrorist group by Israel, the US and the EU.
Moreover, no legal action has ever been taken by the EU under its counter-terrorism policy against the individuals named, who either live in Europe or visit regularly, although European police and judicial authorities have competence over such allegations.
This does not imply that all of the allegations are irrelevant and invalid. It does, however, illustrate the recklessness, deception and perfidious intentions of those who disseminate grave allegations against many Palestinian NGOs and their employees and board members in order to damage their reputation and credibility and embarrass their international donors.
The Ministry also claims that Hamas has infiltrated BDS movements.
“This approach is an evolutionary development in the tactics of the terror organizations against the State of Israel,” the report states. “The terror groups have realized that armed conflict is not achieving its objective... In their eyes, the path to mainstream acceptance requires “legitimate” methods of action.” If a terrorist decides to embrace non-violent strategies to achieve his aims, most people would say that’s a good thing. Apparently, for Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, however, this is a very worrying development – one that must be combated aggressively.
Israeli government spokespersons frame BDS as an existential threat to the State of Israel. Hamas calls for “the liberation of all of Palestine” and this view is shared by some elements of the BDS movement. However, the vast majority of boycott campaigns exclusively target Israel’s military rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs’ new report completely ignores this distinction, as do all Israeli government officials and their allies. They intentionally conflate calls for blanket boycotts and sanctions against Israel as a whole with measures that selectively target Israel’s West Bank settlements and other manifestations of the occupation.
In fact, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 mandates differentiation between Israel and the settlements, and this differentiation is also part of official EU policy.
The blurring of this crucial distinction shows the real goal of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs’ campaign and its war on BDS: to defame and silence critics of the Israeli occupation.
It is ludicrous to frame BDS as an existential threat to Israel. The real existential threat to Israel’s democracy, legitimacy and long-term existence is its military rule over millions of Palestinians for over half a century. Those promoting an end to the occupation are advancing the best interests of the Palestinians – and of Israel as well.
The writer is a member of the Policy Working Group, a voluntary collective of Israeli ex-diplomats, academics and civil society activists advocating transformation of relations between Israel and Palestine from occupation to co-existence based on two viable states.